The New York Islanders seemingly caught Pittsburgh for a home-and-home set at the wrong time, as former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin returned to the Penguins' lineup in Tuesday's opener.
Then again, there is hardly ever a good time for the Islanders to face Pittsburgh as long as Marc-Andre Fleury is in net.
Coming off a shutout that was his ninth win in 11 starts against New York, Fleury figures to get another crack at the Islanders on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (7-2-2) have grown accustomed to playing without their stars during the 2011 calendar year, as Sidney Crosby nears the 10-month mark recovering from a concussion while Malkin missed the final 29 games of last season after tearing his ACL.
He also sat out seven of the team's first 10 games and five straight before logging 19 minutes and three shots in his return Tuesday, but the Islanders' biggest problem wasn't Malkin. They threw 33 shots at Fleury, who stopped them all in Pittsburgh's 3-0 victory.
"Fleury is one of the best goalies in this league," Islanders forward Matt Martin told the team's official website. "He's going to have nights like this. I mean, we have goalies that are fully capable of stealing games for us as well, but sometimes that's just how it goes."
Fleury is 9-0-2 with a 1.41 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last 11 starts versus New York, including 6-0-0 and a 1.17 GAA at home. He's won three straight overall while allowing two goals.
He'll likely get the call Thursday over backup Brent Johnson, who gave up seven goals before being pulled in his last start in the series, the Islanders' brawl-marred 9-3 victory at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 11.
Malkin, meanwhile, didn't have a point Tuesday, but showed no ill effects from the lingering soreness in his knee.
"His presence alone, I know for a fact, changes the game plan on the other side," said Penguins forward Richard Park, who scored his second goal. "He's such a dominant player that even if he isn't on the scoresheet he has a very big impact. Tonight was no different."
New York (3-4-0) has lost three straight despite a penalty-killing unit that has been one of the league's best.
The Islanders have surrendered two goals in 26 short-handed situations, a 92.3 percent kill rate. That's second in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, which has allowed one power-play goal - in overtime - in 35 times down a man.
The Penguins' success on the penalty kill is bad news for a New York club that's been held to three combined goals in their last three games. The Isles have been outscored 21-11 in five consecutive road losses dating to March 30.
"We can't get frustrated," said defenseman Mark Eaton, who played with Pittsburgh from 2006-10. "We played the right way (Tuesday). We outshot them. We got pucks to the net.
"If we play that way every night, more often than not, pucks are going to go in the net."
Six of the Islanders' 14 goals have come courtesy of John Tavares, but the former No. 1 overall pick hasn't enjoyed playing in Pittsburgh. He has one assist and is a minus-7 in five career road games against the Penguins.
New York will bring all three goalies - Al Montoya, Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro - to Pittsburgh. Nabokov, who gave up two goals on 28 shots Tuesday, is 8-2-0 with a 1.67 GAA lifetime against the Penguins.